Researchers call for wiser global policies to save millions of lives and dollars

04 May 2011

Over 39 million lives could be saved during the next decade if changes in policy are made wisely across the globe according a paper spearheaded by Emeritus Professors from The University of Auckland Robert Beaglehole and Ruth Bonita and research colleagues.

“Priority actions for the non-communicable disease crisis” published this month in The Lancet by the Lancet NCD Action Group and the NCD Alliance suggests five overarching priority actions and five priority interventions are required to avert the crisis of premature death and disability from non-communicable disease.

According to the researchers: “The most urgent and immediate priority is tobacco control.” They propose for 2040 “a world essentially free from tobacco where less than five per cent of people use tobacco.”

The paper also suggests a 15 per cent reduction in salt intake would avert up to 8.5 million deaths from high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease over the next ten years stating that “a change in industry norms to reduce the addition of salt now will have important benefits in the future.”

The promotion of physical activity policies, reduction of saturated and trans fat foods and sweetened sugar drinks, policies curbing the marketing, sponsorship and availability of alcohol are also advocated as global priorities.

Finally the researchers call for universal access to affordable and good-quality drugs and suggest that the interventions would require a modest global commitment of around US$9million per year. Scaling up will take years to build momentum so not all of this money would be required in the first few years.

Professor Ruth Bonita says: “The challenge for the public health community is to translate the persuasive technical evidence into a persuasive political message to ensure that the United Nations High Level meeting on non-communicable diseases in New York in September results in concrete action. New Zealand is leading the world in tobacco control with its goal of a country essentially free from tobacco by 2025.”

Head of School of Population Health from The University of Auckland Professor Alistair Woodward says the paper is “a very important piece of work with huge implications”.

“It reviews the mountain of scientific work that has been done on how to deal with heart disease, stroke and cancer including most of the heavy hitters in the chronic disease field, world-wide, and argues there are five things that should be top of the list. These are interventions that are effective, and what is more, are good value for the health dollar,” he says.

Contact Megan Fowlie, Communications Adviser Faculty of Medical Health Sciences The University of Auckland P: +649 3737 599 extn 83257 M: +64 (0)21 802 143 E: m.fowlie@auckland.ac.nz